Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Social Reset

Do you remember your best friend(s) from you were a kid? Do you have one now? In some cases, it may even be the same person.

I had best friends growing up. They changed as life changed, but there were always those with whom I was closer. I would talk on the phone for hours, even when it meant paying an exorbitant amount of money on the long distance phone bill (remember when you had to pay per minute for "long distance" calls?).

Social reset.

One thing that happened in my decision to go to school in Springfield, MO was that it forced me to say goodbye to my former friends and essentially begin a new life socially. Obviously I maintained friendships to some extent, but that was before social media and technology became what it is today. I didn't even have a cell phone.

After I graduated from college I moved back to Massachusetts, but an hour west of the city and no longer near my friends from before college. And in the process I left my college friends too. Once again I was forced to essentially reset life on a social level. After marrying Polly, we developed close friendships with others once again. Our closest friends moved away but we still managed to have close, meaningful relationships with others.

In 2014, when we moved to Costa Rica, we yet again found ourselves hitting the reset button socially. We developed good friendships with other American missionaries as well as Costa Rican nationals. Then we left, went back to the U.S. and prepared to become missionaries to Bolivia. More changes. More social resets.

Here we are, less than a year into our time in Bolivia. We are building new friendships, once again with other American missionaries and with Bolivian nationals.

Reset again.

While we don't get rid of our previous relationships, as relational beings we desire community in a physical sense. We want to spend time with people in-person, not simply via technology. We want people at our house. We want to spend time at theirs.

There's a challenge that comes with constantly resetting your life socially. You constantly find yourself entering situations where people have often already developed their long-lasting friendships long before your arrival. So while you develop friendships, it's hard to find best friends.

And that leaves you looking for others who are not deeply established in their existing friendships. These are typically internationals. And like you, they generally live a transient life. So it's hard to connect to deeply knowing that you or they will soon be gone.

Genevieve, our 7 year old daughter, is dealing with this problem right now. Her best friend is Italian. And we just found out that they are moving back to Italy next month. Reset.

The biggest challenge.

Sometimes people ask what the biggest challenge is as a missionary. Some suggest that we give up so much, our livelihoods and homes and such when we leave. But the truth is that I don't care about stuff. I miss people. I miss being established. I miss my life when goodbye wasn't such a common word and hello wasn't said with such reserve knowing how this too will end.

I don't normally share about these kinds of things, but after sharing a short post on Facebook this week, I decided to open up more and explain further to give you a better idea of our biggest challenge. 

We're not unhappy or depressed or down in the dumps. It is a reality we have accepted to be real. It's just a reality that sometimes stinks. Especially for our kids.

This is an area where we would appreciate your prayers.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Praying our Way to Bolivia

It's hard to believe, but September is here! We are now in our target departure month. It's hard to believe. And we are still well on track to hit the target of leaving by the end of the month. We have chosen today (Friday, September 1, 2017) as a prayer emphasis day to really focus on praying for some of the needs we have as we wrap up our time in the States and to ensure a September departure. Of course, we welcome all prayers at any time. Would you agree with us in the following areas?

God is already answering prayer!

Actually, before I start, I need to share something exciting!! We have been asking people to pray about decisions regarding Genevieve's schooling in Bolivia. I even included in our our prayer post from the other day. Today I was planning to post a more specific prayer about a school we have been looking at and hoping that they would have room and accept her late. We have been praying about it and even prayed about it this morning. Well, we heard this morning that the school is accepting Genevieve!!! This is phenomenal news for us and we want to express a big thank you to God for His goodness in this!

Now let's agree together that God will similarly move in other areas.

Prayer needs in preparation for departure

Please agree with us in prayer regarding:

Visas/Residency Docs
  • That the kids will have no issues with the necessary immunizations required (and otherwise necessary) so we can submit their visa applications
  • That God will already be moving in the hearts of the workers at the consulate to receive and approve the kids' applications without any issues
  • That our remaining documents will arrive in a timely manner so we can get them certified
  • That God will already be moving in the hearts of the workers at the consulate to legalize all our residency documents with no issues
  • That we will find favor throughout this entire process
Budget
  • That the remaining 10% of our budget will come in through new partnering churches and individuals so we can hit the 100% mark we'll need prior to departure
  • For the remaining services and meetings we already have scheduled to share our hearts and an opportunity for partnership
  • That God would put us on the hearts of those who have already considered partnering with us financially and make a way
  • That God would put us on the hearts of those who haven't already considered partnering with us financially and make a way
  • That God would supernaturally put us on the hearts of those who don't even know us yet and make a way
  • That God would give us favor in any board/leadership meetings where churches are discussing partnership with us
  • That God would give us other services or meetings as our schedule allows
Personal
  • That God would help us navigate through the emotions of preparing to say goodbye to life as we know it and leave for Bolivia (for all of us but especially for the kids who are still learning how to better navigate emotions
  • That God would help us as we pack for Bolivia - that we would know what to take and what to leave (sell, give away, pack away, throw away)
  • For traveling mercies as I (Mike) go to Florida for just about a week (Sept 2-6)
  • For traveling mercies for all our remaining travels prior to departure
  • For favor as we go through medical, dental and eye exams
  • For us to get all the paperwork done correctly for Genevieve to go to school
  • For strength as we seek to tie up any other loose ends
  • That God would help us not to be anxious as we go through this process
Honestly, there are so many other specifics I could offer, but these are the ones that come to mind as I write this. Hopefully this is at least a starter for some ways you can be agreeing with us. We have no doubt that God is able! He has always been faithful to us and we have confidence that He will remain faithful.

Thank you so much for your prayers! Please let us know how we can be praying with you (mikeandpollybrown@gmail.com). May God go with you always!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Taking Aim at the Target

[UPDATED 08/31/17 09:43am]

Well, September is almost here. Our target has been to leave for Bolivia in September for quite some time. One big question looms: Will we hit the target?

We believe that the answer to that question is, "Yes!" That answer is based on the fact that we believe that God is able! We also believe that we need to bring our needs and desires to the Lord in prayer. This is why we are sharing this prayer guide with you, so that you can agree with us for God to move in some specific areas as we take aim at the target. We ask you to agree regularly as God leads us through these areas. We are also specifically focusing on prayer this Friday, September 1st as it is the first day of our target month. Perhaps you may consider taking a little extra time to focus on prayer for us and these needs on that day.

Clearance

We must receive clearance in a number of areas prior to departure for Bolivia. Of those, these prayers are focused on 2: visa clearance and financial clearance.

1. Visa

Polly and I already have our temporary visas necessary to arrive in Bolivia. The kids still need theirs, however. We also need to have all necessary documentation for temporary residency legalized by the Bolivian consulate in New York City prior to departure. Please pray for:
  • [UPDATED] Favor as we send in applications for Genevieve and Jonah's visa to the Bolivian consulate in New York City
  • All the documents we need to apply for temporary residency to arrive quickly
  • Favor as these documents are certified
  • The officials at the Bolivian consulate to accept and legalize all the documents (there is one in particular that could be an issue, though we are believing it won't be; thankfully a new plan B option would not affect our time frame)
2. Financial

Praise God that we have reached 90% of our monthly budget raised which allows us to deal with our visas and, upon their approval, purchase our plane tickets. Please pray for:
  • The remaining 10% of our monthly budget to come in as we cannot leave until we are at 100%
  • Blessings upon those who have partnered with us already
  • God to speak to the hearts of the church leaders and individuals who will become a part of our sending team through finances moving forward
  • Favor in all remaining itineration services, meetings and conversations
Preparation

Clearances are critical, but they are not the only thing requiring our attention. We have other things to focus on in preparation for our impending departure to Bolivia. Please pray for:
  • God to give us wisdom and guidance with what to pack and what to leave behind, sell, give away, throw away, etc.
  • Us to be able to acquire things we still need
  • Decisions regarding Genevieve's schooling in Bolivia
  • Strength through all the impending goodbyes
  • Favor in upcoming medical, dental and eye exams
  • Favor and wisdom as we prepare to purchase plane tickets
  • Traveling mercies as we travel a lot during our final month here
  • Strength to work through a busy schedule
  • God to help us navigate the emotions that come with transition
  • Any loose ends that need to be tied up
  • Favor and wisdom as friends help us look for housing in Bolivia
Of course, you can pray for us in any other area as you feel impressed on your heart by the Holy Spirit. Especially considering that these are items prior to our departure. There will be many prayers needed when we arrive and while we serve there as well. Thank you for praying with us. Please feel free to Facebook message us (facebook.com/mikeandpollybrown) or email us (mikeandpollybrown@gmail.com with anything that we can be praying for you about or with anything you feel the Lord puts on your heart regarding us as you pray. Thank you!

Friday, May 26, 2017

This is going to be epic!

"Are we there yet?"

That's a question we expect to hear a lot over the next month and a half. Why? Because we are heading out on a nearly 7 week road trip.

During this trip we will either pass through or stop in each of the following 20 states:

Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia

That's 40% of the states in the U.S. during one trip over just under 7 weeks.

This is going to be epic!

During this trip we will see family and old friends, meet with pastors/church leaders, preach, share about our mission, see new places, have fun adventures, witness some friends get married (Polly is actually in the wedding), go through security training, missionary training and missionary renewal, be commissioned as appointed missionaries with the Assemblies of God World Missions and even attend a district council.

This is going to be epic!

During this trip we will travel dozens of hours over thousands of miles. We will sleep in at least 12 different places, meaning 12 different beds. We will pass three holidays - Memorial Day, Father's Day and Independence Day.

This is going to be epic!

But in order for this trip to be epic, it needs one more very critical thing: prayer. That's why I'm writing this blog. We desire your prayers covering numerous things as we embark on this epic road trip. Will you pray with us?

Below are some of the specifics areas about which you can be praying for us, but also please feel free to pray for other areas as the Spirit leads you. I have broken down the list into sections to better organize it:

1. Spiritually
  • That during a crazy, busy schedule we would make time to spend in prayer and Bible reading
  • That we would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit for opportunities to share the love and hope of Christ with people on our journey
  • That we would look more like Jesus at the end of the trip than the beginning
2. Physically
  • For health - we will be traveling so much and interacting with so many people; also, we will have to work harder to find/create time to exercise and will be eating out more than usual; we need self-control
  • For rest - we will be sleeping in different places and running on a different schedule than the norm and driving a lot of miles
  • For safety in travel - we will be traveling a lot of miles with a lot of other motorists; we are driving an older van with nearly 200,000 miles on it so prayers for the van to experience no mechanical issues would be great too
  • For good weather - for travel and personal protection and enjoyment
3. Relationally/Socially
  • Interpersonal family relationships - we will be traveling a lot of miles and spending a lot of hours together
  • Family - we will be seeing family we don't often see and even meeting family we've never met, including our 1-year-old niece
  • Friends - we will be seeing old friends and making new ones
  • Those left behind - we won't be seeing my Massachusetts family during the trip and will only see Polly's Pennsylvania family near the beginning and end; the kids will also be leaving behind their close friends they've made here for the duration of the trip
  • The right connections with the right people for the right reasons
  • That we would be a blessing to others and be willing to be blessed by others
4. Emotionally
  • Spending lots of time together, especially in a car, lends itself to a range of emotions; we must be careful how we deal with and express those emotions
  • The flip side of seeing old friends and making new ones and all that excitement is the inevitable "see you later"
  • Patience, patience, patience - we will need lots of patience
5. Mentally
  • To stay awake and alert as we drive
  • To grow and learn so much from others and especially in our trainings
  • Clarity in mind and thought as we make travel and other decisions
6. Financially
  • For great gas mileage and great deals at hotels (thankfully, we will be spending very little time in hotels)
  • For God's blessing over those who generously give to our budget which covers the travel and training expenses
  • That the offerings/donations we receive on the road would cover the travel expenses
  • For God's blessing over those who have graciously offered housing and/or meals during this journey
7. Ministerially
  • For great services when we have the opportunity to preach/share
  • For great meetings with pastors/church leaders
  • For favor as we learn things that will help us in our ministry here and in Bolivia
Thank you so much for your prayers! We're so excited for this trip but also a little overwhelmed and stressed. But we know that God goes with us and we trust Him to bring us through. This is going to be great. With God, this is going to be epic!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Count Your Blessings

“Count your blessings.”

Have you ever heard that phrase? It’s not a verse from the Bible, but it is a theme we can certainly find in the Bible. Many of the psalms involve the psalmnist looking back and recounting God’s blessings in his life. The whole idea of memorial stones in the Bible seems to be a method of memorializing blessings from God. Really, we could find and discuss a lot of references in the Bible which speak to this idea.

My concern in this blog during this Thanksgiving week, however, is not that people in the Bible “counted” their blessings but why I believe there’s value in doing it. Why count our blessings?

I could use many of the psalms to make the following point, but since I was reading Psalm 61 when I felt God put this word in my heart, that’s the one I’ll use here. Specifically I want to focus on Psalm 61:1-3 (ESV):
1 Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
2 from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
3 for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.
David prays to God with confidence and faith believing that the Lord is going to answer him. Why? I think the key to that answer is found in verse 3. It's because God has already proven Himself faithful in the past as a refuge and strong tower to David. And here is the truth that I felt like God put in my heart as I was reading this:
God's past faithfulness fuels our present faith.
Our faith is not a blind faith. Our faith is a result of looking back and seeing God's hand on our lives. When we see how faithful He has been to us, it motivates and encourages us to have faith in our present circumstances!

So why count our blessings? Why take time to think about all the things for which we have to be thankful? Why take time to thank God for all He has done? So that we can remember His past faithfulness to give us the faith we need now. He has done it before and He can do it again!

This is the reason David points out God's faithfulness to him in the past. This is the reason Joshua set up the memorial of 12 stones in Joshua 4. And this is the reason we too should count our blessings and express our thankfulness for all God has done and accomplished in our lives this year: to have the faith to believe for Him to answer us again in the year to come.

So I encourage you to take some time to set up your own memorial stones. Count your blessings. Write them down. Remember all the good things God has done for you. Give Him thanks. Then when you're standing in front of an obstacle that seems so challenging, you can have the faith to know that God is faithful and that you can trust Him!

**UPDATE** I want to share an example of this that came yesterday morning before I wrote this post but after I had decided to write it. We were blessed to receive a generous personal cash gift from the Southern New England Ministry Network's Women's Ministry this year. We wanted to be able to use the whole thing for Christmas but needed to put 2/3 of the gift toward our credit card. Yesterday morning when we opened our statement of donations, we noticed that a friend had made a personal cash donation to us (totally unexpected) for the exact same amount of the other donation we needed to put toward our credit card. We were once again reminded that God is faithful, even in "simple" things like this.

** Want to read more? I wrote a blog a couple of years ago about how a hen came to symbolize God's faithfulness in our family. Check it out! **

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Unloading the Weight

It has been a little over 3 weeks since I started regularly exercising and eating healthier. And I am feeling great. I have been losing weight and getting stronger and faster by the day.

As I was running last week, a thought occurred to me: I am improving exponentially. I believe there is a good reason for this. I am running (and riding my bike one day a week) which is building my muscle and making me stronger. But I'm also losing weight in the process. And the more weight I lose is the less weight I need to carry with me as I run.

This fit with another thought I had recently: The hardest thing to do is to get going. But once you get going, it's a lot easier to keep going. It's like a ball rolling down a hill. It starts off slow but it gets going and starts flying. I really do believe that most people just need to find that motivation to get started. And something I think that will help is by remembering that you can't tackle it all at once. You're not going to lose weight and get in shape in one day. It will take time. But you have to start that time at some point. My mentality is that you should just aim to do better than before in the beginning. You don't have to hit the ideal right away. Get the ball rolling.

After I had the initial thought last week, another thought came to me: This is not much different than another aspect of our lives. How often are we carrying heavy burdens with us? How often are we trudging through feeling defeated and overwhelmed? We need to start getting rid of some of that baggage, because once we get going it will become easier. The less weight we're carrying with us the more confidence we have that we'll get rid of the rest. This is true of our physical bodies, but also mentally and spiritually, I believe.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 ring so loudly as I think of this:
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (ESV)
I don't know what you're carrying with you right now. But I do know who can help you: Jesus. As I read in my devotions on Wednesday, Psalm 30:11-12 says,
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (ESV)
So it's time to get out there and start shedding some weight, both physically and metaphorically. I want to leave you with some encouragement.

Physical Weight Loss Encouragement

Get out there and get started. Start small. Take a walk around the block. Want to run? Start with some walking breaks in the middle. "Oh, but that's not good enough. I should be able to run the whole thing." Listen, you will with time. But you need to start somewhere.

Metaphorical Weight Loss Encouragement 

Spend some time in prayer and reading the Bible. Ask God to take your burdens. He can give you rest that you will never achieve on your own. Not ready for the certain things yet? Start with something you are ready for. Trust Him. He will never let you down.

Here are 2 more verses:

Psalm 68:19
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. (NIV)
1 Peter 5:6-7
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (ESV)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Most people lose weight leading up to their wedding day. I, unfortunately (in this instant), was not like most people. I was the heaviest weight of my entire life around my wedding and honeymoon. I had never really struggled with weight issues until college and the years following. I've covered more about that story in a blog already so I won't cover it here.

Since I lost my weight in 2009, I had done a pretty good job of keeping it off. I went to Costa Rica weighing about 175 lbs (about 10 more than my ideal weight). I don't know how much I weighed upon our return but that number ballooned even higher after reintroducing myself to some of my favorite foods (especially cheese) that I hadn't enjoyed very much during our time there. When I finally weighed myself back on Sept. 12 I was about 190 lbs...25 lbs more than my ideal weight. Oops. It was time for a change. So I decided on a reverse New Year's Resolution. To lose 25 lbs by the New Year. 111 days. 25 lbs. The challenge was on.

So, I have spent the past few weeks changing my eating habits and exercising again. And as of Monday (2 weeks after starting), I was down 6 lbs. More than that, I feel stronger, faster, healthier, and just all-around better. Oh, and my clothes fit better. I still have a long way to go, but it has been a good start.

I was thinking about how nice it is to celebrate these victories. Then I read Psalm 21 in my devotional time one day. I want to highlight a few verses that share one thing relevant to this that I took from this psalm:
1 O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
7 For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.13 Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.
You see, I think it's great to celebrate our little victories. But that's because I think it's a great opportunity to remind ourselves that our victories come not in our own strength but in the strength of the Lord. God is the one that gets the glory and the credit for our victories. They are reminders for us to thank God for His goodness and favor.

Since early on when I started running again years ago, I have run with a mantra: "In His Strength. For His glory." I run with God's strength and do it to glorify Him because He's so good! So I do celebrate a great start to accomplishing my goal. I celebrate to thank God for the strength to have a great start. Let's never lose focus or forget to thank God for His goodness to us and the strength that He gives us!

BONUS: Running Tips

Since I'm sure some of you reading this are in a similar place, trying to lose weight, I thought I'd share a few personal tips. Healthy eating habits are also critical and a different discussion altogether. These are strictly some tips regarding the exercise. I'm not a medical professional nor a running professional and these are just personal thoughts, not official scientific advice:

Change up your runs - Do not run the same distance or pace every day or even every week. You should vary course, distance and pace. Some examples of types of runs you can do are:

  • Distance runs - Run an easy pace where you can talk and aren't breathing heavy for your longer runs.
  • Mid-distance runs - Run a pace where you are breathing a little heavier, not really able to carry a conversation.
  • Hills - Find a hill at whatever grade and length you're okay with and do repeats by running up at a good pace and then jogging back down. Repeat at least 3-5 times.
  • Intervals - This is best done at a track or around a block. You run a lap fast, then jog a lap. Repeat at least 4 of each (8 total laps). If one lap around the track is too much to start, do half the lap.
  • Fartleks - During a normal jog you can randomly pick an object within view and sprint to that object before returning to your normal pace.
There are obviously many other types of runs, but this gives an idea. The point is that if you run the same distance and pace and route all the time, your muscles will start becoming adjusted to it and you'll eventually stop improving. By switching things up, you'll be better off in the long run (pun not initially intended).

Be creative with running routes - I recently did a running route that had me pass by all the houses in which I have lived in Malden as well as the hospital where I was born. This made for a far more interesting run because I had lots of little destinations and had lots of opportunities for reminiscing as I run.

Cross train - Even if you prefer running like I do, cross training is always advised. I haven't always stuck to this, but I am this go-round. You can swim, ride a bike, row, etc. The idea is to still do cardio activities but not running.

Create a plan - In order to make sure you are changing things up, you should create a plan. This also helps ensure that you are more likely to not take off days when you should be running. You are more likely to follow a schedule if you actually create one. I continue to tweak mine but it currently looks like this:
  • Monday - Speed drills (hills, intervals or fartleks)
  • Tuesday - Cross-training (biking)
  • Wednesday - 5k (mid-distance) running pace
  • Thursday - Off
  • Friday - Long distance jog (the goal is to still get faster as you continue training)
  • Saturday - Weight training or crossfit style workout (or active family activity)
  • Sunday - Off
I will still walk or do other activities during off days or other days beyond my workout at time, but your body needs rest from strenuous exercise at least once a week (in my opinion). The key is that you have constant goals.

Set attainable mini-goals - Set goals along the way aside from your ultimate goal. Make sure they're attainable. But little victories give us confidence towards bigger victories. And they remind us that God is with us, giving us strength!